Introduction: Over Engineered Nutcracker

Picture of Over Engineered Nutcracker

So Grace wanted a nutcracker. I could have walked down to the shop and bought a cheap one for a few pounds...
But why would I want to do that when I can spend several hours and several times the cost to build our own?! I recently saw one of the screw types for the first time and thought, "What a cool idea. I could make that..." So I did.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Early on I decided to use aluminium. It's relatively cheap, easy to machine and it doesn't rust. I came across a chunk that was about 3 1/2" in diameter and 1 5/8" long that would be ideal. The Tommy bar would be mild steel and I'd use a short length of studding for the screw.

Step 2: Facing Off the Body

Picture of Facing Off the Body

The aluminium body was chucked in the 3-jaw and faced off. Then it was flipped end for end and the other side was faced off.

Step 3: The Boring Part

Picture of The Boring Part

Next a pilot hole was drilled through the centre. I started with a centre drill followed by a 3mm, then worked up to my largest drill, a 3/4".

Then I bored out the starter hole with a boring tool:

Once I had enough clearance I switched to my larger boring tool. This is a home-made jobby with an HSS tool bit secured in the end of it:

I bored the hole out to a diameter of about 2". We guessed that 2" would be enough to comfortably fit a walnut in the bottom, and aesthetically it would look ok. Many, many miles of swarf later, we had this:

Looking at the last few photos, you can see a mountain of ally swarf building up around the lathe!

Next I took a light skim off the outside diameter just to tidy it up a
little. I didn't get a photo of the set-up, but I did it by opening the chuck jaws inside the bore to grip it from the inside. I wasn't too confident about the whacking great lump of ally staying put while it was gripped like this, so I ran a long length of studding through the headstock bore. I placed a metal bar clamp over the end of the studding and the end of the ally, then nutted the studding at both ends. This pulled the ally in towards the chuck and made sure it wasn't going anywhere (I used a similar method again later to mount the ally on the crosslide). To make sure I didn't mark the surface of the ally, I put a few sheets of paper between it and the clamp.

Step 4: Milling the Bottom

Picture of Milling the Bottom

Though the wheel may be a marvellous invention, it doesn't make a practical nutcracker! To prevent it from rolling all over the table instead of cracking nuts, I had to mill a flat onto the bottom of the ally. I secured the ally to the crosslide by using the same bar clamp from before plus a bit of studding. Then I milled the flat using a fly cutter. Note the paper again to stop the clamp from damaging the surface of the ally:

Step 5: Dilling the Screw Hole

Picture of Dilling the Screw Hole

Now I had to drill and tap the screwhole at the top. This obviously had to be in line with the centre of the milled flat on the opposite side. To mark out the position I clamped the flat bottom to a vee block, although an angle plate would have worked just as well. This ensured the flat was perpendicular to the surface plate, and therefore the axis for the hole would be horizontal and running through the centre line of the ally's diameter. Then I set the height gauge to half the diameter and marked the position:

I drilled the tapping hole with the bench drill. I can't tap straight for toffee, so I tapped the hole using the drill chuck (off power of course!) while the ally was still in position. One day I am going to build a dedicated tapping fixture for jobs like this.

Step 6: The Tommy Bar

Picture of The Tommy Bar

That's the main part of the nutcracker finished. Now for the Tommy bar.

I faced off the end of some 3/4" steel bar to make the "hub" of the Tommy bar. Rather than cut it to length straight away, I worked on the end of a long bar to make the cross drilling easier. This means using a fixed steady to support the end of the bar.

With the bar faced off, I marked out the position for the cross hole,
then set it up on the bench drill. There are many ways to cross drill round stock (most of them awkward) and I used the method that I found easiest with the kit that I've got. I clamped the bar in a small machinist's vice. To ensure the hole position was exactly perpendicular, I placed a small square on the drill table against the bar. Then I measured across and made sure the hole position was at 3/8" (half the diameter of the bar). It's pretty much the same method that I used on the nutcracker body, but flipped 90 degrees. Then I lined up the hole position with the drill and clamped the vice down:

(I forgot to take these photos at the time, so I staged them afterwards with a fresh lump of bar. That's why the end of the bar looks like it's been chewed by Richard Kiel) I drilled and tapped the hole straight through to take the arms of the Tommy bar. At either end of the hole I drilled a shallow counterbore the diameter of the arms. This is to allow an un-tapped portion of the arms to sit inside the hole. If I didn't do this then the tapped ends of the arms wouldn't sit fully in the hole and it would look untidy.

Step 7: The Tommy Bar Hub

Picture of The Tommy Bar Hub

The "hub" was then sawed to length and the sawn end faced off in the lathe:

Then it was drilled and tapped to take the main screw of the nutcracker (some M10 studding). I could have made the screw and hub all from one bit of steel, and screw-cut the thread, but as I already had some studding to use...

When I'm tapping or using a die in the lathe, I use a spindle driving handle to turn the chuck. My handle was built from a Hemingway kit, and I find it makes tapping on the lathe far easier.

Step 8: Ends of the Tommy Bar

Picture of Ends of the Tommy Bar

Next I made the ends of the Tommy bar. These are simply a bit of 1/2" bar, faced of both ends, then drilled and tapped one end to fit the Tommy bar arms (here pictured next to the hub):

Step 9: The Tommy Bar Arms

Picture of The Tommy Bar Arms

Finally the arms were made by cutting a thread on the ends of some 1/4" bar. I used a tailstock die holder for this:

And the assembled Tommy bar:

Step 10: The Anvil

Picture of The Anvil

As mentioned before, the screw was just some studding. Grace decided that the screw needed something a bit more "industrial" on the end of it for crushing nuts into oblivion. So I made an anvil of sorts using some more 3/4" bar, and this attaches to the main screw with an M4 screw. The anvil needed a 4mm clearance hole drilled through it, then a counterbore to house the screw head. I don't have any "proper" counterbores, so I just used an ordinary 7mm drill. This leaves the counterbore without a flat bottom which isn't ideal, but in this case it's not going to matter. As before, I found it easier to work on the end of a long bar then part it off to length.

Step 11: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

All the parts are then assembled together and held in place with some locktite.

And finally the finished, assembled nutcracker showing some walnuts no mercy!


loopingz (author)2015-08-23

It is a real nice project.

Anyway let me share my best experience cracking nuts almost any size: You can set up for different size and size you can apply the correct amount of force super fast!

buck2217 (author)2015-07-01

Nothing wrong with over engineering AWESOME

explosivemaker (author)2015-03-24

very sexy

olboyuk (author)2015-01-09

I have just ordered a billet to make one of these. Fantastic idea which will make a great bit of art as well.

aarendal (author)2015-01-08


fvaldivia (author)2015-01-08

i just loved it and, decided...on my way to buy a lathe...i deserve it.

dscherer2 (author)2015-01-06

if you use a smaller hex bolt/threaded hole you could attach the hex head to a power drill quite literally making cracking the nut, and resetting "at the push of a button" that's over engineering!!! The "18v powered nutcracker" ???

Fikjast Scott (author)2015-01-03

Great instructable, I like the work you did on the tommy bar, never new the name.


jackowens (author)2015-01-01

These look nice enough to sell! Excellent job

blatantimage (author)2014-12-30

Simple, awesome, and effective design.

mahtabs (author)2014-12-29


Svartalf (author)2014-12-27

Dead awesome. Now I wish I had a proper lathe to make one of these.

bstarling (author)2014-12-26

Very nice machine work there, for certain no walnut will withstand it mighty force! I enjoy overdoing things myself. Good work!

thundrepance (author)2014-12-25

when i saw the first foto, i just cracked up; when i was done laughing, i thought, "that's for ME!"

& it's so sharp looking, you can keep it on the counter or an open shelf for others to notice & admire, too!

sitearm (author)2014-12-24

GraceB4; Sweet! Your "over engineered" nutcracker immediately reminded me of a pecan nutcracker my grandad made 50 years ago.He used bent bar and milled metal stock to construct a hand lever mechanism: you pressed down on the lever to horizontally crack a pecan lengthwise between a fixed and a movable jaw. A fond memory, thank you!

sushil samvatsar (author)2014-12-23


I am not happy with the choice of Aluminium for the ring. It is soft and subject to wear when threaded tommy bar of mild steel moves through it. A cast iron piece is resistant to corrosion and has good wear resistant properties with respect to mild steel.

harvsch (author)2014-12-23

Very nicely over-Engineered.

Well done.

ндогонят (author)2014-12-23

Tell me about over-engineering when you start a CNC (computerised NutCracker) with step motors, pressure sensors and laser-peeling of the shell...

Your nutcracker (much of a vice, actually) is a very fancy piece of art, probably the reason why the "original" costs nearly £300 for a mere £10 of supplies (+VAT and shipping). Bravo!

Erchan (author)2014-12-23

Did you get a patent and trademark?

tlbdm3 (author)2014-12-23

Cool project. i would suggest acme threads or a brass piece of all thread. Regular threads in aluminum tend to get galded when used over and over.

PavelT1 (author)2014-12-23

Very cool looking design. I wish they sold these in stores.

maxom (author)2014-12-23

Wonder how it would work on Black Walnuts, they are down right hard to crack.

agulesin (author)2014-12-23

Nie project! Have you thought of making a stronger screw thread? the current one looks like it'll wear out after a few years of cracking. We had a very old nutcracker which has a brass square-profile thread, still going strong after maybe 40-50 years.

Waste Of Space (author)2014-12-23

Try opening a macadamia nut with it. That will tell you that it is barely strong enough for the job.

Marbots (author)2014-12-22

Over engineered? You think?
Great title... Even better project. Love it.

gglass (author)2014-12-22

When you face the first side of the material take a small turn along the diameter, enough to clean it up. Which means when you flip it round your jaws are gripping on 2 true surfaces instead of possibly one. Then when you face the other side they are both parallel.

It's also useful if you don't have a lot of extra material to play with work out your excess turn a diameter to just short of your excess and flip it round grips on 2 true surfaces and you don't need to worry if you have enough material outside the chuck.

Shrimp24 (author)2014-12-22

Love it awesome job!

lathe_makeatio (author)2014-12-22

Nice Lathe work! A heavy duty tool who seems last for ever. Archaeologists in 1000 years will have a new riddle after digging it out ;-)

BeachsideHank (author)ArtemK22014-12-21

She stated in her abstract that this was an inspired project, not an original one, guess she didn't want to "shell" out-

£295 / Nutcracker.

£325 / Bowl & Tray.

£600 / Full Set.

+ Delivery

-I don't blame her either, nicely executed, a "cracker" of a build.

Signing off for now... ;-)

GraceB4 (author)BeachsideHank2014-12-22

lol. Only cost us £12 in materials too. We wanted to encase the main body in walnut but deemed that this wouldn't last long

pudtiny (author)2014-12-21

over engineering ?, just looks like it will last.

Chitlange Sahas (author)2014-12-21

thanks for sharing. nice build...

Patrick S (author)2014-12-21

Got a nice 1000+ factor of safety going on right there! Looks great, could be a nice vice type tool if needed too.

grannyjones (author)2014-12-21

This would be so much better for a metal shop project than the useless junk I had to make for a grade.

phantomboy (author)2014-12-21

Looks incredible! One of the coolest things I've seen made lathe

cbrown_bh (author)2014-12-21

There's no engineering like over - engineering. It's a thing of beauty.

BeachsideHank (author)2014-12-21

With several parts to make, this is actually a Nutcracker Suite- wink, wink.

Ben fishes 79 (author)2014-12-21

A spring loaded slide hammer type mechanism would be a cool modification to this. Cool project though!

bomber619 (author)2014-12-21

look awesome :) used to do these in metal class at school but used of cuts of ali scaffolding and just tidied the sides and outer face on the lathe cleaned the inside with emery clothe

RushFan (author)2014-12-21

This is brilliant! I have wanted to get into metal working for some time, now I want to even more!!

bricobart (author)2014-12-21

In medieval times they would have called this a thumb screw. Awwwwwww!!! ;)

Kafukai (author)2014-12-21


2 words: Cordless Drill. It would make the action faster and efficiently.

Divyain (author)2014-12-21

Thanks FOr Guide buddy

tomatoskins (author)2014-12-21

This is beautifully made. I love the included technical drawing as well!!

About This Instructable




More by GraceB4:Noah's Ark Made From Old Kitchen Worktop And Wood OffcutsWooden Valentines / Mothers Day Roses Made From A BranchOver Engineered Nutcracker
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